Collaborative Research: A Fossil Ecosystem under the Ice: Deciphering the Glacial and Vegetation History of Northwest Greenland using Long-lost Camp Century Basal Sediment

Lead PI: Dr. Joerg Michael Schaefer , Paul R Bierman, Nicolas Perdrial, Andrew J Christ, Tammy M Rittenour, Eric J Steig, Elizabeth K Thomas, Kathryn Kasic, Marc Caffee,

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

July 2021 - June 2024
Active
North America ; United States
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Climate warming is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet and contributing to global sea level rise. In order to understand how the Greenland Ice Sheet will behave in the future, we will look to the geologic past. Material recovered from the bottom of ice cores, such as sediment and bedrock, can contain evidence about the ecosystems and landscapes from past ice-free times in Greenland. Drilled through nearly 1400 m of ice during the 1960s, the Camp Century ice core recovered ~3.5 m of frozen sediment at its base that was lost for several decades in a freezer. In this project, we will conduct a comprehensive study of the sediment at the bottom of this ice core. We will use laboratory analyses to determine when and how many times the Greenland Ice Sheet melted in the past, to study the types of ecosystems that thrived during those times, and to understand how the ice sheet erodes the landscape. This new information will allow us to better understand how Greenland Ice Sheet responds to warming and its potential contribution to sea-level rise, as well as understand what types of ecosystems develop in Greenland when ice melts away. Our team includes a filmmaker who will engage with media outlets to tell a story about how ground-breaking research, both in the 1960s and today, has advanced our understanding of Earth?s climate and its polar regions. Along with videos, websites, and social media, we will develop K-12 curricula that tell the story of Camp Century and teach the process of scientific research.

In order to understand how the Greenland Ice Sheet may respond to future climate warming, we look to the geologic past. Material recovered from the bottom of ice cores, such as sediment and bedrock, contains information from past times when the ice sheet was smaller and sea level was higher. In northwestern Greenland, the Camp Century ice core was drilled through 1400 m of ice and recovered ~3.5 m of frozen sediment at its base; however, this sediment was not fully studied and then misplaced for decades in a freezer. In this international collaborative project, we will conduct a comprehensive study of the sediment at the bottom of the Camp Century ice core by applying a range of biologic, isotopic, and geochemical analyses along a depth profile in the sediment. We will use a wide range of analyses to determine the timing and number of ice-free events in northwest Greenland, to fully characterize the ecosystems that emerged during those times, and to understand the erosional processes operating at the base of ice sheets. The new information will allow us to better understand the sensitivity of the Greenland Ice Sheet to climate warming, as well as what types of ecosystems may develop in Greenland as ice melts away. Our work will be a blueprint for future analyses of sediments recovered from beneath ice sheets. The climate information extracted from this ice core tells the exciting history of climate change and climate science over 50+ years. Our team includes a filmmaker who will engage with media outlets to tell a story about how ground-breaking research, both in the 1960s and today, has advanced our understanding of Earth's climate and its polar regions, and to show the utility of science to society. Along with videos, websites, and social media, we will develop K-12 curricula that tell the story of Camp Century and teach the process of interdisciplinary science.

BROADER IMPACTS: The story of Camp Century, established during the height of the Cold War, is the perfect vehicle for engaging the public in Arctic natural science. The paleoclimate data extracted from this ice core, both in the 1960s and now, will be the catalyst for telling the history of climate change and climate science over 50+ years. Our team includes a professional filmmaker who will engage with PBS to promote informal science education. Building on an established collaboration with Jackson State University, the diverse student body of Sacramento State, and the LDEI diversity program at Lamont, we will recruit minority students as interns and for graduate studies. They will both do science and be integral partners in the creation of videos, websites, and social media, and K-12 curricula that tell the story of Camp Century and teach the process of interdisciplinary science to a diverse audience including a polar road show to HBCUs. Our goal is to show the utility of science to society, through a story about how groundbreaking research, both in the 1960s and today, has revolutionized our understanding of Earth’s climate and the polar regions – set in the context of climate change and its effects on people everywhere today

SPONSOR:

National Science Foundation

FUNDED AMOUNT:

$252,372

EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS:

University of Vermont & State Agricultural College, Utah State University, University of Washington, SUNY at Buffalo, University Enterprises, Incorporated, Purdue University

WEBSITE:

https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=2114634

MULTIMEDIA

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